Motivating Children to Learn

Boy With His Hands Over His Mouth - David Castillo Dominici


How do you motivate children to learn? For some, it’s not a problem. They are born with an insatiable desire to get their hands on books. Others, well…

Three of our four children were keen, highly-motivated students. And then, along came the youngest. She was bright and very intelligent; but she did NOT like to read. Assignments were dutifully completed and high test scores maintained; but take up a book to read ‘just for fun’?No thank you!”

Much of my classroom experience was devoted to marginalized students—those other teachers couldn’t manage or didn’t want. For these students, motivation was understandably a major issue.

Here are three key motivations—often overlooked by parents and teachers—that my students taught me. They revolutionize how I home school two of our grandchildren.

Children are highly motivated to learn as they are allowed to discover.

1. Discovery satisfies children’s innate curiosity. From birth children constantly explore, looking to discover interesting and unusual things. Too often, the ‘seriousness’ of school allows little room for curiosity and the joy of discovery. Even rigid curriculum can be implemented in such a way that children discover what was prescribed for them to learn.

Learning occurs as children take ownership through creativity.

2. Creativity satisfies children’s need of ownership. All of us have heard the excited announcement, “Look what I made!”—the joy of creating.

Lincoln was several grade levels behind because he lacked basic reading skills. Worst of all, his younger sister outshone him at school.

Lincoln began to create 3D pictures of words on his spelling list using modeling clay. Each model illustrated the word’s meaning based on the dictionary definition, but redefined in his own words. As Lincoln took the test, he scored 19 out of 20. (His parents were absolutely amazed!) “Lincoln, you didn’t model that word, did you?” I asked. “No sir,” he replied.

As Lincoln took ownership of words and modeled them with clay, his confidence and his learning accelerated. He went on to become a top student in his class at high school, outshining even his sister!

The simplest expressions of approval from parents is high octane motivation to learn.

3. Parents’ approval is by far the strongest motivation. When it comes to school, children will do ANYTHING when they are secure in Dad and/or Mom’s approval.

The mother of the two grandchildren I home school, manages 4 gift shops with a staff of 17 in a large hotel. The children are usually in bed when she returns from work in the evenings. But at breakfast every morning, these budding scholars proudly display their work to Mom who responds with dramatic astonishment: “You did this? This is amazing!” Their excitement gushes out in a flood of explanations of what this is and how they did that. Mom soaks it all up with bright smiles and huge hugs!

Are these two motivated for school? With my breakfast tea still in hand, I’m hounded with, “Grandpa, can we do school work now?” It’s only 7:30 a.m., but off we go to start our school day!

Incidentally, this Mom is the little girl who refused to read any more than absolutely necessary! She has found her gift and excels in it.

Read more about motivating children to learn in my new book HOME SCHOOL: Why Bother? available in print or digital format at Amazon  


Leslie Dahl

Author: HOME SCHOOL: Why Bother?